Chadwick Boseman died last Friday, four years after being diagnosed with cancer. Seeing posts online about this human that I know only through movies and have no personal connection with, I found myself feeling sad. Then I found myself wondering why I felt sad.
As I looked at what I was feeling, I noticed that there were a lot of jumbled energies coming up. On the surface was a sadness based on thoughts like, "He was too young to die" and 'What a terrible thing this is". But I knew that those thoughts were coming from cultural and family conditioning. They are conclusions that I learned by watching people around me as I grew up. Just abstractions, they actually have no relevance to reality. So I took a closer look at those thoughts and started to question them: Is this really a terrible thing? Maybe. But really, I know nothing of Boseman's personal life, of his internal experiences and struggles, or how he felt about dying.
Most of us don't spend a lot of time examining and processing our points of view about death. In the United States, death is still largely taboo- hospice care was introduced into the US healthcare system in 1974, and wasn't covered by Medicare until the mid-1980's. Medical technology is aimed mostly at prolongation, rather than improved quality, of life. At funerals people are supposed to be very sad, even if the death marked the end of intense or prolonged suffering.
This requisite sadness that those left behind experience when someone dies can be problematic for that entity that has crossed over. We have all had the experience of being controlled by another person's feelings. Most of us will feel terrible if we do something that hurts another person, and we will try to rectify the damage we have done. A mother may struggle to leave her crying child at daycare if the child is screaming, "mommy, mommy, please don't leave me alone!". In the same way, a person who has died may feel like their only choice is to stick around with their still-embodied family if those people are grieving excessively. While grief and other intense emotions are natural when someone dies, sometimes people get stuck in their grief cycle and ruminate on ideas like "I can't go on without them". When this happens, the entity may give up the other options they have available after death in order to stay with the grieving person to try to comfort them.
Sadly, when an entity chooses to stick around in this way, those people still in bodies rarely acknowledge that the entity is present and trying to communicate with them. I am excited about a future where people are willing to acknowledge that they can communicate with those who have died. How different things would be if, instead of responding based on our cultural conditioning of death, we would communicate with the dead and see what is really going on with them.
If more people were willing to communicate with entities, our death rituals would probably look very different. There are already some pockets of the United States where funerals reflect a different point of view about death.
For example, in Louisiana, some funerals include a jazz band and while the ceremony starts with somber, mournful music, it ends with lively tunes and dancing. This ritual becomes a much richer ceremony of death. While the sad feelings of loss and change are acknowledged, there is also space to contemplate the beauty and joy of the life that was lived. Instead of being stuck only in sadness, attendees at this type of funeral can more easily include feelings like the gratitude for having the person who died as a part of their own life experience.
SO WHAT ELSE IS POSSIBLE?
That joy of being alive is captured in these images of Boseman visiting kids in the hospital. Looking at these pictures made me cry, and because death was involved, I told myself that I felt sad. But again, that's wasn't really true. These pictures speak clearly of both life and death. And it seems that when being alive is so strongly contrasted against its opposite, we are more easily moved its beauty, its mystery, and its magic. But the willingness to be vulnerable enough to be moved to tears by something you find beautiful is mostly not encouraged and supported. People are more likely to start asking if you've seen your psychiatrist lately.
I feel like every post I write has this same conclusion, but once again- when you're willing to be brave enough to acknowledge what is actually true for you, you will find that almost nothing is as it first appears. Nothing is really what we have been told that it is. It's easy to use grief to blanket the experience of death and avoid really looking at it. But we cannot truly live until we are willing to being present with death- it is an inextricable aspect of being alive.
What would happen if we were willing to look beyond all the traditional expectations and projections that get activated by Chadwick Boseman's death? We will certainly perceive the pain of the family he left behind, their discomfort of experiencing all the changes that his death will bring. There is the struggle of dealing with cancer. But what also comes into focus, against the contrast of his death, is the fact that Boseman was an amazing, beautiful human that touched many people while he was alive. When we really look, there is an incredibly rich palette of thoughts and feelings to experience with his death. There is an invitation to be reminded of the incredible gift that each of us has, the gift of being alive in a body on the planet at this time. I think Chadwick Boseman would probably like the idea of his death being an opportunity not only to mourn, but also to celebrate and appreciate the fullness of life.